Court Seeks Tougher Charge for Terror Suspect

Phnom Penh Municipal Court Judge Top Chhun Heng on Thursday ordered the reinvestigation of an incitement case against Khmer-American dissident Sourn Serey Ratha in order to possibly up the charge to the much more severe “plotting.”

The court charged Mr. Serey Ratha, who lives in the U.S., with incitement in August for attempting to have 1,000 yellow roses handed out to police and soldiers around Phnom Penh along with stickers calling on them to “turn your guns against the despot,” a reference to Prime Minister Hun Sen. 

Mr. Serey Ratha denied any criminal intent in the message in a statement read out in court during his trial in absentia on Wednesday.

Incitement to commit a felony carries a prison term of up to two years.

On Thursday, Judge Chhun Heng decided not to issue a verdict and instead sent the case back for further investigation to see if the charge could be changed to plotting, which carries a prison term of up to 10 years.

“After the hearing on Wednesday, the court has decided to send the case back to the prosecution for reinvestigation,” he said. “His [Mr. Serey Ratha’s] actions are considered those of a traitor, which is a felony.”

Deputy court prosecutor Meas Chan Piseth requested the change during Wednesday’s trial.

The Criminal Code defines plotting as “a resolution agreed upon by two or more persons to commit an attack where the resolution was put into effect by one or more material actions.”

Mr. Serey Ratha’s lawyer, Sok Sam Oeun, rebuked the judge’s decision on Thursday. “The court’s decision was not right and is not just for Mr. Serey Ratha because the court cannot find him guilty,” he said. “If the court cannot find him guilty in this case, it should drop the charge against him.”

Mr. Sam Oeun said his client also faces a charge of treason in Banteay Meanchey province for ordering the printing of T-shirts last year with a message advising people not to vote in the national election. Three people in that case, accused of transporting the shirts, remain in pretrial detention.

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